8 Cozy Books That Will Make You Think

October 6 2022
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I’ve been caught in a reader’s dilemma as of late: I love challenging, mind-bending reads that will last with me for a long time. However, if I attempt to read too many demanding books in a row, I will inevitably fall into a reading slump. I try to balance my more dense reads with lighter books, but sometimes I find that light books can be too forgettable.

Luckily, I have finally solved my quandary. I have discovered a whole subgenre of books that propose hard-hitting philosophical questions while enveloping readers in a homey, inviting atmosphere. It’s the best of both worlds, a cozy read that will make you think! Here are eight thought-provoking reads that can just as easily be enjoyed with a blanket, a candle, and your favorite hot beverage.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold
by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

A philosophical inquiry set in a café, BEFORE THE COFFEE GETS COLD is the book that inspired me to seek out more books in this subgenre. Taking place over 100 years and set in a back alley in Tokyo, the novel centers around a café that is far from ordinary. With the purchase of a cup of coffee, visitors receive the opportunity to travel back in time. However, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold. Through four perspectives, BEFORE THE COFFEE GETS COLD explores the possibilities and ramifications that come with changing the past and seeking closure.

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Before the Coffee Gets Cold
Toshikazu Kawaguchi

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Once Upon a River
by Diane Setterfield

ONCE UPON A RIVER reads like a fairy tale, but at its heart is a mystery surrounding a mysterious girl and an exploration into the power of the stories we tell ourselves. One night at an inn on the river Thames, a stranger bursts in carrying the lifeless body of a girl. To everyone’s shock, the girl stirs back to life. Three families are sure the girl belongs to them; each is grieving their own losses and determined to claim her as their own. However, the girl cannot belong to everyone, and family secrets must be divulged before the girl’s identity is revealed.

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Once Upon a River
Diane Setterfield

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Fairy Tale
by Stephen King

It may seem far-fetched to call a Stephen King book a cozy read, but in his newest novel FAIRY TALE, he set out to write a story that would make him happy. And while the book still holds scary moments and plenty of nods to horror, the story has so many aesthetics reminiscent of classic fantasy worlds, and the result is an epic saga that instantly transports readers into the depths of King’s imagination. FAIRY TALE is propelled by Charlie Reade, a teenage boy who, upon inheriting a cassette tape from his late neighbor Mr. Bowditch, discovers that the shed in Mr. Bowditch’s backyard is a portal to another world. With Mr. Bowditch’s dog, Radar, by his side, Charlie enters this world and is thrust into the ultimate battle between good and evil, where the stakes are at an all-time high.

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Fairy Tale
Stephen King

Legendary storyteller Stephen King goes into the deepest well of his imagination in this spellbinding novel about a seventeen-year-old boy who inherits the keys to a parallel world where good and evil are at war, and the stakes could not be higher—for that world or ours.

Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was ten, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself—and his dad. When Charlie is seventeen, he meets a dog named Radar and her aging master, Howard Bowditch, a recluse in a big house at the top of a big hill, with a locked shed in the backyard. Sometimes strange sounds emerge from it.

Charlie starts doing jobs for Mr. Bowditch and loses his heart to Radar. Then, when Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie a cassette tape telling a story no one would believe. What Bowditch knows, and has kept secret all his long life, is that inside the shed is a portal to another world.

King’s storytelling in Fairy Tale soars. This is a magnificent and terrifying tale in which good is pitted against overwhelming evil, and a heroic boy—and his dog—must lead the battle.

Early in the Pandemic, King asked himself: “What could you write that would make you happy?”

“As if my imagination had been waiting for the question to be asked, I saw a vast deserted city—deserted but alive. I saw the empty streets, the haunted buildings, a gargoyle head lying overturned in the street. I saw smashed statues (of what I didn’t know, but I eventually found out). I saw a huge, sprawling palace with glass towers so high their tips pierced the clouds. Those images released the story I wanted to tell.”

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Shadows at the Fair
by Lea Wait

Cozy mysteries are in the middle of a renaissance; with series like Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club and Mia P. Manansala’s Tita Rosie’s Kitchen capturing hearts across the literary world, it’s clear that readers crave a snug setting while solving whodunits. No activity is cozier in my mind than antiquing, and in Lea Wait’s SHADOWS AT THE FAIR, the world of antiques-dealing is the setting for a series of suspicious deaths. Murder is far from antiques expert Maggie Summer’s mind as she prepares for the prestigious Rensselaer County Spring Antiques Fair. However, when a sudden death occurs close to Maggie, she will stop at nothing to catch the culprit. Author Lea Wait owned an antiques business for more than 25 years, and she’s incorporated her historical knowledge behind various pieces and experiences in this thrilling series, providing not just a cozy mystery to get in lost in but one that provides insight that’ll come in handy on your next shopping trip—if this plot doesn’t scare you away, that is! 

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Shadows at the Fair
Lea Wait

In the world of antiques dealing, there are minor calamities...like accidentally selling a rare engraving for $170 instead of $1,700. And then there are worse tragedies -- such as the chain of suspicious deaths among dealers in the weeks prior to the Rensselaer County Spring Antiques Fair. For Maggie Summer, owner of Shadow Antiques and an antique print expert, the threat of murder is far from her mind as she displays her treasures at the prestigious show. Though rumors abound, security is tight, and Maggie has been in the business too long to be easily rattled, she can't help observing her colleagues with fresh eyes. And when sudden death claims a victim in their midst, Maggie will race to stop a killer -- if she can distinguish those she suspects from the real deal.

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The Buried Giant
by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro is a master of exploring the human experience, and in THE BURIED GIANT, he meditates on memory, trauma, and the act of forgetting, through the lens of a quest in post-Arthurian Britain. After the war between the Saxons and the Britons finally ceases, elderly couple Axl and Beatrice set their minds to finding their son, of whom they remember scarcely anything due to a strange mist that has caused a mass amnesia across the land. Joined by a Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and a distinguished knight, Axl and Beatrice set off on a journey to reunite with their son, all while slowly recollecting their dark shared past.

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The Buried Giant
Kazuo Ishiguro

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The Cat Who Saved Books
by Sosuke Natsukawa & Louise Heal Kawai

From the title alone, you KNOW this book is going to be cozy central. A quirky adventure and an ode to the written word and unusual friendships, THE CAT WHO SAVED BOOKS follows teenager Rintaro Natsuki as he is about to close the secondhand-book store he inherited from his grandfather. Suddenly, a talking cat approaches him with an unusual request: to accompany him as he liberates abandoned and unloved books from their owners. Soon, Rintaro and the cat enter a series of mazes that pit them against book torturers and publishing drones until they must confront one final challenge that only the bravest can take on.

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The Cat Who Saved Books
Sosuke Natsukawa & Louise Heal Kawai

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People from My Neighborhood
by Hiromi Kawakami & Ted Goossen

Japanese literature masterfully blends the ordinary with the surreal, creating slice-of-life stories with intriguing twists. One of the best examples to merge the supernatural with the everyday is Hiromi Kawakami’s PEOPLE FROM MY NEIGHBORHOOD. Admittedly, when I first read this book back in April of this year, I was fully expecting to pick up a light read that I could breeze through. However, after reading these 26 “palm of the hand” stories, I was blown away with how much of an impact they left on me. These interconnected stories follow the goings-on of a neighborhood, from its residents to its notable locales, the stories becoming increasingly strange as you progress. I still think about the girl who collects doll’s brains at least once a week!

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People from My Neighborhood
Hiromi Kawakami & Ted Goossen

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Circus of Wonders
by Elizabeth Macneal

In CIRCUS OF WONDERS, Elizabeth Macneal creates a circus with substance, balancing a lush, atmospheric Victorian backdrop with a found family of oppressed performers. When Jasper Jupiter pitches his Circus of Wonders in a poor coastal town, he buys Nell, a girl covered in birthmarks, for his show. Nicknamed “Leopard Girl” because of her spots, Nell becomes a sensation across the world, and as her fame begins to eclipse that of Jasper’s, she fights for love, respect, and autonomy.

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Circus of Wonders
Elizabeth Macneal

From the #1 internationally bestselling author of the “lush, evocative Gothic” (The New York Times Book Review) The Doll Factory comes an atmospheric and spectacular novel about a woman transformed by the arrival of a Victorian circus of wonders—“as moving as it is deeply entertaining” (Daniel Mason, New York Times bestselling author).

Step up, step up! In 1860s England, circus mania is sweeping the nation. Crowds jostle for a glimpse of the lion-tamers, the dazzling trapeze artists and, most thrilling of all, the so-called “human wonders.”

When Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders pitches its tent in a poor coastal town, the life of one young girl changes forever. Sold to the ringmaster as a “leopard girl” because of the birthmarks that cover her body, Nell is utterly devastated. But as she grows close to the other performers, she finds herself enchanted by the glittering freedom of the circus, and by her own role as the Queen of the Moon and Stars.

Before long, Nell’s fame spreads across the world—and with it, a chance for Jasper Jupiter to grow his own name and fortune. But what happens when her fame begins to eclipse his own, when even Jasper’s loyal brother Toby becomes captivated by Nell? No longer the quiet flower-picker, Nell knows her own place in the world, and she will fight for it.

Circus of Wonders is a beautiful story about the “complex dance between exploitation and empowerment, and the question of what it really means to have control over your own life” (Naomi Ishiguro, author of Escape Routes).

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Photo credit: iStock / Anna Puzatykh

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